by Sophie McNeil
Ask anyone around town about Fondren and most likely one of the first things they’ll say is it’s an “artsy” neighborhood. Sure, there are colorful buildings with unique details, but it is the people in them, the many artists and craftsman clustered in Fondren, that make this the creative district to work and play.
“Fondren lends itself to an arts and entertainment district because of the ability of people to be able to park their cars and truly just stroll. They can shop, peruse galleries, grab a cup of coffee, and dine,” said Michele Escude, co-owner of circa. URBAN ARTISAN LIVING. “Being that Fondren is a neighborhood with creative local entrepreneurs, there is a natural gravitation forÂ the public to support and just hang out where the creative energy is happening.”
For most of the artists in Fondren, it’s a reason they stay energized. Mary Grace Brown, owner of Brown’s Fine Art and Framing, remembers a time when art was not so easy to find in Fondren or elsewhere.
“You had to buy art from a furniture store if you wanted it back when we started,” she said. Brown’s Framing first opened in 1965 on State Street before moving to its current location in 1983. Taking a closer look at the arts scene of Fondren, there’s a unifying paradox: diversity. Art ranges from fine polished sculptures to glass, from abstract acrylics to folk art. The artists themselves are a diverse range of ages, races, and interests and they like it that way. Diversity, they agree, is just as much a component of Fondren as the creativity itself.
“The beauty of art is that you can’t avoid originality if you try. Everyone is unique, and if they present their own voice with honesty it will be wonderfully different from others without being forced or contrived,” said Fondren artist Jerrod Partridge. “I happen to paint with oils on handmade paper, but that’s not what makes my work different. It’s different just because it’s mine.”
Joel Brown of Brown’s Fine Art and Framing agrees. “The creative energy and history of Fondren brings together the old and the new and people from all walks of life. This neighborhood offers so much diversity.”
So what’s so inspiring about the community? Artist Elizabeth Robinson says, “Fondren is a natural fit for an art-centered lifestyle. As artists, we are fortunate to find support from the surrounding business community.Â As one walks the Fondren Central Business District, store windows display posters of upcoming music and art events cultivating interest by visitors in Fondren as an art center.”
If there’s one thing that can be said for the art scene, it’s constantly changing. New artists are featured on gallery walls each month and talent is always emerging. Marcy Fisher-Nessel of Fisher Galleries says this is a good thing for the area. With change comes growth, she says, which will only enhance the area.
While some growth has been organic, some artists have staked their claim with their own bare hands. Richard McKey, owner of Fondren Art Gallery, built his art studio just north of Duling Avenue on State Street with the help of others on his own. “I built my studio in Fondren because I wanted affordable property that I could actually own, rather than rent.Â Ten years ago Fondren was clearly on the cusp of a Renaissance,” he says.
Studios like McKey’s in the overlay district of residential and commercial gives the neighborhood a feel you can’t find everywhere. Partridge, who does his art out of his home, agrees.
“I think that Fondren has just the right blend of residential and commercial presence.Â There is a wonderful relationship between the two that seems unique to Fondren.”
For folk artist Roz Roy, she stays in Fondren because of the many supporters she has in the area. “The people of the Fondren community put my name on the map for my art,” she said. “I have lots of people in this area that love and support me.”
Is the future bright for the arts in Fondren? Definitely. As Partridge puts it,“The future is hopefully what it already is, only better.”